Jasprit Bumrah's Test conundrum
It takes a lot to fit in. It takes, even more, to stand out.
Jasprit Bumrah, India's maverick with the ball, has rewritten the traditional norms of cricket to script a unique success story. The awkward action and rangy physique, which were touted to be his weaknesses three years ago, are the most dangerous weapons in his arsenal today.
The 23-year-old is not only captain Virat Kohli's go-to bowler in limited-overs cricket but also the best in the business therein today. His perfect yorkers, cunning pace-change, and impenetrable mental resolve have made him the ultimate asset in the Indian camp. His ability to bowl yorkers at will is like gold dust in today's game, which is so heavily tilted in favour of the batsmen.
Bumrah has a fiery temperament ideal for a fast bowler: his fighting spirit is unquestionable and he is ready to fit into any role assigned to him by the captain. Who wouldn't want a man like that on their team?
However, should he be brought in to every team?
When the Indian squad for the upcoming Test series against Sri Lanka was released, most Indian cricket fans were disappointed (yet not surprised) by the absence of Bumrah's name on the list. He has been an exceptional performer in the shorter formats of the game for over 15 months now. However, his coveted Test call-up is yet to arrive.
Is it too soon for him to be drafted into the longest format of the game? Is it too late already? Let's dig deeper into this conundrum.
Bumrah in whites: why it makes sense
India will face Sri Lanka in a three-match Test series that will commence on Thursday at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. It is safe to say that the hosts will cruise through the games. Kohli and his men whitewashed the Lankans in their own backyard earlier this year, and their prospects look even brighter now that they will play in familiar conditions.
If there ever was something like the right time to test youngsters in international cricket, it would be in a series like this. There is nothing on the line for India as they are the glaring favourites going into series with eight consecutive Test series wins under their belt.
This would've been the ideal chance to introduce Bumrah into the Test fray and give him an opportunity to express himself with freedom. With tougher tours of South Africa and England in the pipeline for 2018, this would've been good preparation for the 23-year-old.
The purest form of cricket
Unless a player has been tried and tested in the Test arena, he will never be counted amongst the greats of the game. If ODI cricket is a battle, Test cricket is war. This is the arena that separates the boys from the men. This is the breeding ground for timeless champions and legends with transcendent legacies.
Every cricketer dreams of surviving and ultimately thriving in Test cricket. Chris Gayle, who participates in numerous domestic leagues across the globe for various T20 franchises, recently revealed that he wanted to don the whites for West Indies again. That is what performing at the Test level means to the players. No matter how many dollars you mint from the game, you will never truly walk on air, unless of course, you are content with your performance in the most gruelling form of the game.
Bumrah too must have aspirations of shining amongst the strongest of competition in the toughest conditions of Test cricket.
Bumrah is in a purple patch right now and must be raring to take that form into 5-day cricket. He has secured brilliant stats in international cricket so far and these numbers back his claim for a Test spot.
He has 52 wickets in 28 ODI games. His bowling average is mindblowing at 22.28 and the economy rate of 4.77 is invaluable. His T20 numbers are just as good, if not better. In 30 games that he has played at the international level, he has scalped 40 wickets at an average of 18.40 and an economy rate of 6.74.
Bumrah in whites: why it does not make sense
Horses for courses
Is it necessary for every international cricketer to compete in all forms of the game? Is it practical to play the same players in T20Is, ODIs and Tests, in spite of the almost-crazy scheduling of cricket tours today?
Some players cut the mustard in a singular format and drag their feet across others. Not everyone is born to be a master of all trades like Sachin Tendulkar. Even in Tendulkar's case, his ODI legacy overshadows his Test stature by a substantial margin.
Cheteshwar Pujara is a Test cricket specialist for India right now. He plays red-ball cricket all around the year and gets time to revive, rest and replenish before the next Test series dawns on the team.
Isn't it pragmatic to save Bumrah for the format that he fits best into, just like Pujara? His eccentric bowling action, which enhances his two-over spells in ODI and T20 cricket, might lead to his downfall in relatively longer stints in Test cricket.
The white ball-red ball crunch
The white ball is considered to swing more than the red ball, which is used in Test cricket. The powerful impact that Bumrah has on the result of a match might not be replicated in the longest format of the game. It will take him time to get used to the intricacies of bowling with the red cherry and get around to extracting the best out of it.
He has participated in First Class matches before, but that is like elementary school compared to the struggles of real Test cricket.
The 2019 World Cup
The national selectors and team management need to keep their eyes on the ball right now. They cannot afford to drop it in England a couple of years later!
The ICC World Cup 2019 is not very far away and every plan that Indian cricket makes right now should be centred around developing the best 15-man squad for the big tournament.
Bumrah's extreme consistency, which forms such a crucial part of the ODI mix today, cannot be tampered with under any circumstances in the lead up to the World Cup.
Throwing him into an avalanche of Test, ODI and T20 cricket right now might lead to almost catastrophic effects on him and, by extension, India's chances in the competition. He might develop a niggle which, before anyone can bat an eyelid, could develop into a serious, perennial injury.
It is not a risk worth taking.
India have their scene sorted in Test cricket right now and do not necessarily need ancillary support in the pace department. Bumrah might make his mark in the longest format of the game someday, but he can definitely wait for some time, at least until after the 2019 World Cup.